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US astronauts’ return to Earth delayed as NASA and Boeing look into technical issues

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore, left, and Suni Williams
NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore, left, and Suni Williams Copyright AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
Copyright AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
By Anna Desmarais
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Two astronauts are stuck in space waiting for the ability to return back to Earth due to technical difficulties, officials said.


Two astronauts’ return to Earth has been delayed due to technical issues, officials have said. 

The Boeing spacecraft and NASA’s two astronauts, Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, took off on June 5 and docked at the International Space Station (ISS) the next day.

They were supposed to stay for just over a week, until June 14th, to do some testing. 

A few days into the mission, the crew started investigating five small helium leaks, five failures with the thruster before the craft docked at ISS, and a faulty valve that is not properly closed, according to an updated release on June 10 from the Starliner crew. 

The two astronauts are the first people to fly on the Boeing Starliner: a partially reusable spacecraft that transports crews to and from the ISS and other destinations in low orbit. 

NASA’s plan is to eventually use the Starliner to conduct routine astronaut missions, alongside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. 

Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s commercial crew programming, said the decision was made to study the Starliner in space, because when it reenters, it will likely go into a deorbit burn, making it difficult to study. 

“This is the test flight, we are taking our time to understand the vehicle,” he said. “We want to give our teams a little bit more time to look at the data”.

“Safety is in the foremost part as we approach the problems and we look forward to the return of Butch and Sunny,” Stich said during the press conference. 

This is the latest in a series of technical issues for the Starliner and for Boeing. The first launch of the spacecraft was supposed to be in May but was delayed due to a technical issue with the propulsion system. 

Starliner has had issues over the years as well, such as dozens of glitches, design problems and management issues which led to an unsuccessful uncrewed 2019 mission. 

Stich confirmed that Starliner needs seven hours of helium to get back to Earth and currently has enough for 70 hours.

The craft could spend up to 45 days at the Space Station if needed, he continued. 

When the craft does come back to Earth, it is now expected to land at White Sand Space Harbour, New Mexico on June 26 around 4:51 am Eastern time (10:51 CET). 

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